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Characteristics: Order Collembola


Characteristics: Order Collembola

Photo: © Flickr user Neil Phillips

The name Collembola means "glue wedge," a reference to a small structure called a collophore on the abdomen. Scientists once believed this appendage helped the insect adhere to a surface. Today, scientists think the collophore absorbs moisture from the environment.


Insects in the order Collembola have chewing mouthparts, and most species feed on decaying fungi, bacteria, or algae. Some carnivorous species eat their Collembola cousins. Identifying features of the order Collembola also include short antennae, small eyes, and bodies frequently covered in scales. Collembola come in a wide range of colors, though most are tan to brown.

The furcula (springtail), which folds beneath the abdomen, enables Collembula to escape from predators quickly. When threatened, a springtail will whip the furcula against the ground to propel itself backwards, into the air and away from harm.

Habitat and Distribution:

Springtails live in a broad range of habitats - ponds, grasslands, caves, snowfields, soils, and even people's homes. The majority of species inhabit soils and act as decomposers of decaying plant material. They are encountered almost worldwide.

Major Families in the Order:

  • Hypogastruridae - elongate-bodied springtails
  • Isotomidae - smooth springtails
  • Entomobryidae - slender springtails
  • Sminthuridae - globular springtails
  • Poduridae - water springtails

Species of Interest:

  • Pogonognathellus flavescens is an unusually large springtail found under logs and leaf litter.
  • Hypogastrura nivicola, one of the "snow fleas," swarm on the snow.
  • Podura aquatica is the only named species in the Poduridae family.


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